Heritage Open Day Event: Turvey Abbey – The Building

An Old House called Turvey Abbey

We celebrate the skill and craftsmanship of the many tradesmen who through the centuries have worked on the building known as Turvey Abbey. (Which only became home to a religious community in 1980!)

We don’t know when the first house was built on the site, or what it looked like. It is generally agreed that the oldest part of the current building is the eastern end—it was drastically re-designed in the mid-nineteenth century. The Mordaunts owned the building but never lived in it.

At the start of the seventeenth century a major enlargement took place. The date 1605 can be found on one of the gables on the road-side of the Abbey, and 1608 on a west-facing gable on the south side.
It is possible that an existing building to the west of the house was enlarged first, with the work finishing in 1604, and that this building was joined to the house, that work being finished in 1608.

1781   TURVEY ABBEY FROM THE ROAD, sketched from memory by John Higgins
1781   TURVEY ABBEY FROM THE GARDEN sketched from memory by John Higgins

1792   John Higgins inherits Turvey Abbey from his Uncle

The Abbey had probably changed very little since the early seventeenth century when, in 1781, John Higgins first saw the dilapidated old farm house that, to his delight, he would one day inherit from his uncle. Years later John would make sketches from memory of the house as it was in 1781.

When, in 1792, John inherited the Abbey, part of the house had been repaired by his uncle, Charles Higgins, and part of the house was in the occupation of Sarah Laurence, the tenant of the Abbey Farm (Turvey Abbey) who had been promised a lease of the Farm for the rest of her life. The house and garden were both divided until her death in 1797.

Sarah would have lived in the eastern part of the building, and John and his family in the western end—which was presumably in better condition. After her death John took down the old garden walls and laid out his gardens.

John had big plans for his new property. He created a carriage drive, built a new stable block with a tower clock supplied by Thwaites & Reed of London, replaced the small windows with Georgian windows, in short, created a house suitable for a gentleman. He also created a drawing room in the part of the house with the ‘1608’ date.

John made paintings and sketches of his new estate and of the people who worked for him which survive to this day. The Rev John Longuet-Higgins, current holder of the family archives, has kindly made them available and they can be found on the Turvey History Society website:–


John Higgins history of Turvey Abbey, pages 51 to 54 of his scrapbook, can be found on the Turvey History Society website:–


1830   JOHN WARREN Mason
Stone Wall By John Warren
Stonework came from an old house being demolished at Easton Maudit, and was copied
1830   WILLIAM DALLEY, Ploughwright, Cooper and Carpenter
Roof Timbers by William Dalley, Brand House, Turvey Abbey
Early 19th Century,  Turvey Abbey from the Road, watercolour by John Higgins
2023, Turvey Abbey from the Road, photograph by Sr Benedict
Early 19th Century,  Turvey Abbey from the Garden, watercolour by John Higgins
2023, Turvey Abbey from the Garden, photograph by Sr Benedict

1846   Charles Longuet-Higgins inherits the estate from his father

Charles Longuet-Higgins had the bold plan of creating a ballroom or hall by removing several walls in the oldest part of the building, creating a suitable timber structure to hold the roof up, and adding a gable with two ‘pretend’ blocked-up windows. The hall has a beautiful carved ceiling created by the same person who would go on to carve the ceiling of the chancel in All Saints church. Charles also altered the layout of the ground floor to create access to his new hall.

Charles suffered from asthma and had the garden layout changed, removing many of the trees that his father had planted.

1981   The Benedictine Nuns of Cockfosters move to Turvey

The Abbey was then more of less left in peace until 1980 when the property was purchased by the Benedictine Nuns of Cockfosters. (The Abbey stable block, by then a separate property, would become the Monastery of Christ our Saviour.)

A lot of building work was needed before we could move in, but by late summer 1981 we were all resident at the Abbey. As a priority we needed a chapel and places to set up the work equipment that we had brought from Cockfosters.

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